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Genshu, namazake, namachozō-shu, namazume-shu: Special kinds of sake

 

There are two kinds of sake that are a little different from regular sake — genshu and namazake. These two words are sometimes seen in longer terms like junmai ginjō genshu and daiginjō namazake.

 

Naturally, genshu and namazake each have their own characteristics. They are both brewed as sake in the usual way, but the final stage of the process is different.

 

Genshu
Among brewed liquors, sake is conspicuous for having a high alcohol content. As a matter of fact, sake typically has an alcohol content of around 20%. However, this is normally reduced to around 15% by the addition of water. This dilution is called warimizu.

 

However, there are some varieties of sake that are made without this addition of water. Sake shipped from the brewery without warimizu dilution is called genshu.

 

Because no water is added, the alcohol content of genshu is high. So one consumes it more slowly, enjoying its special flavor to the full. The term mukasui (“undiluted”) is sometimes used in referring to genshu. A vigorous flavor due to the high alcohol content is characteristic of genshu.

 

Namazake
In producing sake, various microorganisms are used for fermentation, including the mold culture (kōji) that converts starch to sugar, and the yeast culture (kōbo). After genshu is produced, the various molds and enzymes continue to alter the quality of the sake over time.

 

To prevent this from happening, the genshu is subjected to heat treatment, the aim being to put a stop to the action of the microorganisms and enzymes. That is, the genshu is pasteurized. For sake to maintain its quality over time, pasteurization is essential.

 

However, some unpasteurized sake is sold. It is called namazake. It needs to be kept refrigerated because at room temperature the enzymes remaining active in the sake will cause the drinking quality to deteriorate.

 

In general, when storing sake, it is considered advisable to use a relatively cool, dark place. In the case of namazake, though, paying attention to storage considerations is particularly important.

 

The taste of namazake, containing active enzymes and yeast, is pleasantly fresh. Provided you take care to store it in suitable conditions, it’s worth giving it a try.

 

Namacho and namazume
While the terms namacho and namazume resemble the term namazake, what they refer to is different from namazake.

 

Normally, sake is subjected to heat treatment twice. Sake that does not undergo the first heat treatment is called namacho. The term namachozō-shu is also used to refer to the same thing. Sake that does not undergo the second heat treatment is known as namazume. It is sold as namazume-shu.

 

Namazake, in contrast, is sake that does not undergo either of the heat treatments. To distinguish it from namachozō-shu and namazume, namazake is also sometimes referred to as hon-nama or nama-nama.

 

It’s important to know that, while the word nama (meaning “raw; unprocessed”) is prefixed in both namacho and namazume, these are not the same thing as namazake.

 

It is also worth noting that, while namazake does have a fresh flavor, that does not necessarily mean it is better than pasteurized sake. Regular sake that has undergone heat treatment is fully capable of complementing a meal.

 

It’s not a good idea to select brands of sake based on considerations such as “storage and distribution are troublesome” or “it’s valuable because the numbers are small.” Each variety of sake has its own good features.

 

There is now a variety of sake known as nama genshu which does not undergo heat treatment, and — like genshu in general — is not diluted with water. Combining as it does the features of both genshu and namazake, nama genshu can be enjoyed as a drink with an even greater depth of flavor.


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